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Roundup: U.S. Congress rejects Obama's veto of 9/11 lawsuit bill in first override of presidency

Updated: 09 29 , 2016 10:34
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WASHINGTON, Sept. 28 -- U.S. Congress voted on Wednesday to override President Barack Obama's veto of a bill allowing families of the victims of the Sept. 11 terror attacks to sue Saudi Arabia.

The vote handed Obama the first veto override during his nearly eight-year presidency, dealing a blow to the White Houseand highlighting the administration's waning sway over Congress during Obama's last months in office.

The U.S. House of Representatives voted 348-77 to override the veto issued by Obama last week, hours after the Senate voted 97-1 in favor of the override, with Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid voting solely to sustain the veto.

The bill, named Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA), now becomes law despite the fierce opposition from the Obama Administration. Many lawmakers are reluctant to oppose a bill supported by families of the Sept. 11 attacks victims, as the election is just over a month away.

"Overriding a presidential veto is something we don't take lightly," said Democratic Senator Charles Schumer, one of the chief sponsors of the bill. "But it was important in this case that the families of the victims of 9/11 be allowed to pursue justice, even if that pursuit causes some diplomatic discomforts."

"This bill is about respecting the voices and rights of American victims," Republican Senator John Cornyn said.

Following the Senate vote, White House spokesman Josh Earnest slammed the vote as "embarrassing."

"This is the single most embarrassing thing the United StatesSenate has done possibly since 1983," Earnest told reporters, referring to Senate's overwhelming override of former President Ronald Reagan's veto of a land bill.

"To have members of the United States Senate only recently informed of the negative impact of this bill on our servicemembers and our diplomats is in itself embarrassing," he added.

Obama vetoed the bill on Friday, citing concerns that the bill "would be detrimental to U.S. national interests."

"Enacting JASTA into law, however, would neither protect Americans from terrorist attacks nor improve the effectiveness of our response to such attacks," Obama said.

Families of the Sept. 11 victims have been trying to sue the Saudi royal family, Saudi banks and charities in U.S. courts, on ground that the Saudi government provided financial support for terrorism.

Osama bin Laden, the mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks which killed nearly 3,000 people in New York, Washington D.C. area and Pennsylvania, was a wealthy Saudi national.

But the families' efforts have largely been stymied, in part because of a 1976 law that gives foreign nations some immunity from lawsuits in American courts.

The JASTA has already drawn strong criticism from the Saudi government, a close U.S. partner in fighting terrorism in the Middle East, which has denied any role in the plot of the 2001 terror attacks.

Saudi Arabia has also threatened to sell off hundreds of billions of dollars' worth of American assets held by the kingdom if the U.S. passes and enacts the bill.

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